Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

'Walkabout' shows mayor plight of wheelchair users

Len Brown and Dr Huhana Hickey discover the difficulty of accessing 280 Queen St by wheelchair. Picture / Greg Bowker.
Len Brown and Dr Huhana Hickey discover the difficulty of accessing 280 Queen St by wheelchair. Picture / Greg Bowker.

It was billed as an "accessibility walkabout" to show Auckland Mayor Len Brown and city officials the problems disabled people face in getting about our biggest city.

"The vision is to be the most liveable city in the world," wheelchair user Dr Huhana Hickey, a lawyer, reminded the mayor, quoting from the Auckland Plan.

But it took a walk just one block down from the Town Hall to find an example that proved how far that vision is from reality.

A multi-level shopping centre at 280 Queen St includes a medical centre and the only Labtests medical laboratory between Remuera and Grey Lynn.

An office tower above it houses a hearing centre for the High Court and Court of Appeal and the Auckland offices of the Labour Department, Employment Relations Authority and the Immigration Service.

But the only direct access from Queen St to all of the above is by escalator.

A sign says there is disabled access from Lorne St. But when Dr Hickey and other members of the council's disability advisory group took Mr Brown up steeply sloping Wellesley St to Lorne St, those with non-motorised wheelchairs needed someone to push them.

When they got to the back entrance, steps led up half a level to the Labtests floor.

Go past the back entrance and a newcomer might eventually find a heavy metal door marked, in big letters, "Fire Exit". Underneath, in smaller letters, it says: "Disability entrance".

Vivian Naylor, another wheelchair user and a disability consultant, went in with Mr Brown to show him the lift that was supposed to provide access to the shopping floors and to the office tower lifts. She pressed the button for level one of the shopping complex. Nothing happened. She tried again and again. Still nothing.

Perhaps the lift was overloaded, so two people got out, leaving just Mr Brown and Ms Naylor in the lift. But it still wouldn't move. They gave up.

Council building control manager Ian McCormick, who was part of the walkabout, said the building code had been tightened since that building was built and now required ramp access from ground level.

"I would be surprised if anything like that would be approved now," he said.

But Ms Naylor said the new Telecom head office in Victoria St still did not provide disability access from the main entrance.

"You have to go down Victoria St to get in at a lower level," she said. "Victoria St West is very steep. I would never get back up again."

- NZ Herald

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